Law Point! My third Malayalam film of the week! I have to get them all out now, because Fan-Fever starts next week and I will be dedicating my life to that for the foreseeable future. Anyway, I really liked the plot and the actors and the characters and all sorts of other things in this film. But the introduction of our hero was so evil, it kind of distracted me the entire time.
In fact, it’s still distracting me. I can’t talk about anything else in the film until I get all my thoughts on that one small part out of the way.
We open in court, the defendant is getting increasingly nervous, because his big superstar lawyer still isn’t there and arguments are about to start. Crosscut with this is a car going through traffic, pulling up outside the court, a figure getting out, swooping his robes on, and finally bursting through the door just in time as his associate is about to start the argument, sweeping in with a cocky smile and a comment about how “thank goodness, he doesn’t have to let his associate try the case!”
So, it’s a great over the top hero’s intro, very much like SRK in K3G, and I get that this is a big superstar lawyer who is always the smartest and toughest person in the room. That’s all fine, and I am excited to see the slightly morally ambiguous but clever way that he manages to win his case, because he is established as being above the rules and smarter than anyone else. And he does win the case in a clever way, by tying the witness up on the stand and twisting her argument, and also referencing a fake witness who contradicts her story.
Only, it’s a rape case. And the witness is an 18 year old maid who is too scared to even speak on the stand. And his twist to her argument is that, even by staying in the employ of a man who had been sexually harassing her, she turned into a prostitute, since she was putting up with sexual advances for money. Also, there were no injuries on her body, so clearly it wasn’t rape. Actually, she wanted it. And he has a witness that will testify she was trying to seduce her employer.
I just, I can’t get past this! Is this really acceptable in Indian society? I don’t mean a lawyer actually doing this, obviously they do it, they make the same kinds of arguments in cases in America. But for it to be so clear and blatant, and for the audience to still be expected to sympathize, or even want to spend any more time with, the character who is making the argument? I mean, the whole plot revolves around female suicide, I can’t have been the only person watching this scene and knowing he just signed the death sentence for that girl. Suicide rates of rape victims are astronomical anyway, and now he’s shamed her in public court and made her doubt her own mind and actions. So, in the first scene of the movie, he kills a teenage girl. How did the scriptwriters/director think the audience was supposed to sympathize with him after this?
I kept watching, and I enjoyed the whole rest of the movie, but the main reason I kept watching was because I thought it would come back at the end. He would learn to sympathize with young women and care about them, and then at the end we would see him giving some of his huge fee to the rape victim so she can leave town, and telling her that he knows she was telling the truth and it wasn’t her fault, so she won’t kill herself. But it never happens! That was really just an isolated scene to make the audience understand what kind of a person he is and set up his character.
And it did make me understand what kind of a person he is, which is why I kept cringing for the rest of the film whenever he was alone with a young woman. Which was A LOT. Right off the bat, we have him go over to our heroine’s house to talk with her about dropping her suicide case against her boyfriend. And her father offers that he can talk with her alone in her room. And I immediately think “Oh my God, he’s going to kill her.” Because that’s his modus operandi (da?), he finds fragile teenage girls and gets off on humiliating and destroying them. I thought his solution was going to be to incite her to attempt suicide again, but this time successfully. But no, instead he just wants to talk with her and convince her to let go of her anger and take the huge settlement the boy’s family is offering.
And then he offers to take her for a drive and get her out of the house, and again I think “Okay, he’s just going to seduce her, rape her, and then use that to destroy her in court.” Because, again, that’s the kind of man the movie told me he is, that’s how he was introduced, as someone who thinks sex is always okay so long as she doesn’t fight back to the point of broken bones. Heck, as someone who thinks a teenage girl agreeing to be alone with a much older man gives irreversible permission for him to have sex with her.
What made this especially frustrating, is that everything else in this movie totally worked for me. He is a complex character who has a vague but definite morality, he respects women, and he cares about them as people. Which is clear in every other scene except for that first one. Starting with their car ride, where she clearly gives as good as she gets in their conversation, and he treats her with respect and courtesy. And going all the way to the end, where they fully understand and respect each other as worthy adversaries, I liked all of that. Well, I liked most of it. I did have a few issues, but really they were only there because the opening primed me to look for them.
SPOILERS START HERE
So, after getting the rapist off by killing a teenage girl, he is approached about another case, a wealthy builder got a call from a friend who warned him that a case had been filed against his son for causing a suicide. (which gets into that whole thing I was struggling with yesterday in the post about Pratyusha, that in India you can actually bring someone to court for causing a suicide). Our hero meets with the family, and the son looks like a jerk, seemingly doesn’t even care about what happened, playing with his phone and being disrespectful. But his Dad isn’t that great either, yelling and hitting him for what he’s done, and seemingly not even caring that a young woman almost lost her life. Our hero forces them to the absolute highest amount they would be willing to offer the girls family to drop the case, and then says that his fee will be 20% of that, and that he will go talk to the girl and convince her.
All of this is actually awesome. The way he makes them increase their fees, it feels like he really is trying to siphon off the most money possible out of this family and over to the poor girl. And like he actually understands the mindset of her and her family in bringing the case, and maybe even sympathizes with it. And then it’s followed up by him taking the boy out for a drive and forcing him to be honest about what the relationship was actually like between him and this girl, which again feels like he is a little disgusted by this kid and the whole situation. If this had been our hero’s introduction, I would have liked him a lot right away! It’s got a nice sense that he may be working for these people, but he doesn’t like them or approve of their actions, and he is going to work to make it end in the best way possible for all concerned, both his clients and others.
Heck, they could have kept that same opening, and just changed it a little to match up with what we saw here! Imagine if after that despicable scene in court, we saw that he passed 50% of his fee over to the victim as a matter of course. Or if instead of vilifying her on the stand, we see him pull her away from her lawyer and offer to settle for a huge amount if she lies on the stand, because the court case will just humiliate her further. I’ve got no problem with the argument that it is always better to settle for the money than to try to get “justice” in court. And that would actually work better for the final twist here, if he was famous for always getting a settlement, not for always getting his client off by being the devil.
Anyway, like I said, this whole bit is great. If I ever want to show this movie to anyone else, I will just skip the first ten minutes and come in with his first meeting with the boys family, because it is a much more layered and likable intro. And then he goes over to the girls house, and this bit is played pretty well too. He is sympathetic and respectful to her father, presents the settlement as best for all concerned, since a court case will just further damage his already damaged daughter, and the money will actually hurt the boy they want to hurt. And his first meeting with the girl (once I got past my fear that he was going to incite her to kill herself again and/or rape her) is actually pretty great too. She has no patience with his arguments or his sympathy. But she agrees to go for a drive with him, just to get out of the house.
The drive bit is where this movie really took off, because it actually sells me on them as a couple. Even though she is 17 and he is however old he is. And she just tried to kill herself over someone else. And he is a slimy lawyer. Again, this is if I put up a mental block to his initial introduction. Whenever that snuck in, I was back to worrying about her safety. But if I blocked it out, he was being kind of perfect. Not treating her like a child or a fragile doll (the way her father was treating her), but also not being overly aggressive in his attacks on her, just providing caring logical arguments and letting her talk. And definitely not trying to make any sort of romantic move on her or being at all inappropriate in that way. He doesn’t even make the argument that she will fall in love again and there are better boys in the world, it’s all based on her future as an individual person and how much better it will be if she doesn’t have all this hanging over her.
(It felt strangely similar to this, with another damaged young girl and older man who helps her heal herself over the course of a long trip)
And then it gets icky again when he makes his final argument, saying that he had a sister her age who died, and he just wishes his sister could have the second chance she has been given. But the flashback story he gives of his sister’s life is so odd! Starting with his mother wanting an abortion and he, a young boy, arranging with her doctor to prevent her from having one because he wants a sister. Blech! If they had changed it just a little, made it his father who was pushing for the abortion and his mother going along with it but secretly regretful, then it would have been about him conspiring so that his mother could make her own choices for her body. But nope! It was his father deciding the abortion should happen, and him deciding it shouldn’t, and the woman’s body just pinging between the two of them, barely noticed in the argument.
The rest of the flashback is sweet, with him raising his sister and loving her, great message there about loving and appreciating the girl child and boys being involved in childcare, that I loved. And I also liked that it provided this subtle sort of character backstory for him, that maybe he is so cold and heartless because he has always thought of it as himself and his sister against the world, with no room to care for anyone else.
It wins our heroine over, she agrees to sign the papers and take the settlement, and then they have a sort of wistful look and good-bye when he goes away. And then, twist! He returns home, where his evil divorced parents are clearly happy and loving, and his sister is a thriving and alive college student, and the whole story was made up! Which is awesome! But it still leaves that moment of “wait, why would you (the character) and you (the screenwriter) think that a good sad backstory is a working mother who wants an abortion? That’s your go to for ‘worst possible timeline’?”
But, further twist! After a song in which they both think about each other and their long conversation in the car, he follows her to her college campus. Which is having a “100 Years of Indian Film” festival. Which is all thematic, because the whole movie is about the stories they tell each other and how they frame them. It’s a really cool backdrop to the whole final conversation.
First, our hero explains how he realized the whole thing was a scam, they never meant for a police report to be filed, they made sure the doctor sent it to a friendly cop who would hold it up, they went to a family doctor who would lie about the injuries, and now here she is, without so much as a scar on her wrist. She just wanted the money, it was never about love.
And then she tells her version of the story. It was always about love. His father would never agree for them to be married, so she came up with this whole plot in order to get money out of him to help set them up. And they picked him out as the lawyer to suggest, because they knew he always went all the way to get his clients off (this is where it would work so much better if he was famous for making settlements, not for being an immoral skeezeball). And the boy shows up, looking nice and respectable and apologizing for how he acted, it was just to make it more believable that he would be such a jerk.
But then there is a third version of the story, after our hero objects that there was never any suicide at all. Yes, there was. The heroine’s friend tried to kill herself. Because she was the real girl in love with this boy, and our heroine and her father came up with this whole plot so that they could be married and she could be happy. Which is totally what I called right from the beginning when we saw the friend leaving the house and had awkward dialogue about how she is older than the heroine! That she would be the real girl, and the heroine just pretended to be the victim because she was under age and couldn’t be prosecuted. For once, my crazy conspiracy version of the plot turned out to be true! (unlike Wazir, Traffic, and Ki & Ka). Only, I was thinking it would be the two girls working together to get revenge, not to unite the lovers.
This is another moment where, if that opening 5 minutes hadn’t cast such a pale over everything, I would have been fine. But as it is, I had a moment of “oh darn!” Because the ultimate lesson is still that women are being controlled by men. Even if it is in a very small way, by all of this being done so that she can marry the man she wants, it still involves a future and happiness that revolves around a man. But it’s a small piece, and it is worth it if the real ending is that our super smart teenage girl and super tricky lawyer realize that they are two sides of the same coin, and Made For Each Other.
So, to sum up, I would highly recommend this movie as a movie, the script is great, the plot holds together, the performances are delightful, the directing is clear and professional; but that first 5 minutes is so ugly, if you want to enjoy the film, you should just skip it.